NC Local deep dive: Pushing for tools and equity in ‘unpublishing’ news content

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

Deborah Dwyer is a former reporter and communications Deborah Dwyerprofessional in her home state, Tennessee, who’s now a Ph.D candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her newlywed husband is in Durham, but she’s temporarily living in Columbia, MO, as a 2020-2021 Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, studying the “ethics and practicalities of unpublishing” — the focus of her research at UNC.

Her mission and passion are to create tools and collect best practices to make unpublishing — removing old factual content, by request, to restore the subject’s reputation — more manageable and fair.

In the digital age, crime reporting means that some people who make minor mistakes, or have their charges dropped or reduced, or who redeem themselves, or who might be found innocent, can still be forever “guilty by Google,” as Dwyer puts it.

But there are many arguments against unpublishing: Factual reporting is an accurate reflection of history. Information that was true when it was reported should not be removed or altered. Doing so can erode trust with the audiience, and arbitrarily alter our only record of past events. And there are alternatives, such as addendums that update and/or clarify; writing and linking to a follow-up story that updates the reporting; or removing the story from a search engine’s cache but preserving it. 

I talked with Dwyer to find out more about the challenges and possible solutions. Her key points are distilled in my NC Local newsletter of Feb. 10, 2021; a fuller account of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, is below.

Read moreNC Local deep dive: Pushing for tools and equity in ‘unpublishing’ news content

NC Local for Jan. 13: Covering the current crisis: Local journalism’s role, + resources

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Jan. 13 edition: A campaign to save the historic Wilmington Journal, and shoutouts for a dozen recent examples of strong NC journalism. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

The insurrection a week ago at the Capitol was yet another call to duty for North Carolina’s local news and information providers. Obviously, stories just don’t get much more important than this one — and it has hundreds of local tendrils.

People are anxious. They need reliable information on what’s happening. And there’s a very good chance that there’s more unrest to come — and closer to home.

I consulted a lot of smart folks over the past few days and pulled together a few tips, plus some good work and some things to think about:

Ways to build trust

‘While we don’t know what the next few days and weeks will entail, we know this is far from over. And as journalists, it’s an important moment for us to convey credibility.’

Mollie Muchna, for Trusting News, offers several useful guidelines for keeping faith with readers while covering civil unrest. The key points:

Read moreNC Local for Jan. 13: Covering the current crisis: Local journalism’s role, + resources